London Wasps’ Aviva Premiership play-off dreams are hanging by a thread after a last-gasp Christian Day try handed Northampton Saints a precious bonus-point win.
Wasps thought they had done enough to win the game after a stunning second-half score from Eliot Daly but with the last play of the game, Day burrowed over the line to draw the game at 24-24, with Stephen Myler’s conversion winning it for the Saints.
The visitors had completely dominated the opening 40 minutes, scoring three tries following catch and drives from line-outs but an opportunist score from Tom Varndell and the boot of veteran Stephen Jones kept London Wasps within striking distance at the break.
London Wasps had a 100 per cent home record at Adams Park in the Aviva Premiership this season prior to kick-off and for a while in the second half it looked as though that would continue until Day’s late intervention.
Northampton demonstrated their superior power up front inside the opening ten minutes; the returning Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes from international duty with England, instrumental.
After a sniping break from Lee Dickson, London Wasp Varndell was penalised for stepping offside but instead of taking the points; Northampton kicked for the corner.
In their last Aviva Premiership fixture, London Wasps slumped to a 29-23 loss to Worcester Warriors; Dai Young’s men were unable to cope with Worcester’s driving line-out that day and it repeated itself again against Northampton.
Day took the ball at the front of the line and the Northampton pack drove over the Wasps’ try-line, with referee David Rose awarding a penalty try and sin-binning T Rhys Thomas in the process on eight minutes – Myler added the extras.
After an earlier Stephen Jones penalty miss, Daly dragged London Wasps back into the game with a long-range penalty to make it 7-3 on 12 minutes.
But London Wasps’ inability to cope up front surfaced again on 16 minutes; Myler turning down a penalty kick in favour of going for the corner and Northampton were again rewarded as the Saints’ pack drove over, with Dickson dotting down the ball – Myler missed the conversion to make it 12-3.
Out of nothing London Wasps – second best throughout the opening quarter – got back within two points of the Saints after a superb try from the Aviva Premiership’s leading scorer Varndell.
The former Leicester winger gathered a pass from No.8 Billy Vunipola, beat four Northampton defenders and ran in under the posts to score his 12th of the season – with veteran Welsh fly-half Jones adding the extras.
London Wasps took the lead on 23 minutes thanks to the boot of Jones with a penalty.
However, London Wasps’ Achilles heel continued to surface and on 31 minutes returning England second-row Tom Palmer, making his first start for three months after injury, was sent to the sin-bin as the London club were penalised for continually infringing with Northampton’s driving line-out.
Hartley again turned down a kick at goal in favour of a line-out and Northampton’s superior muscle was again rewarded as Hartley burrowed over after a period of Saints’ pressure – this time Myler added the extras to make it 19-13.
Despite being obviously second-best throughout the opening 40 minutes – London Wasps ensured they reached the break just three points down thanks to a penalty from Jones.
England duo Joe Launchbury and James Haskell stepped off the Wasps’ bench on 48 minutes and it immediately stiffened up a pack continually being marched backwards by Northampton – they won a penalty from a scrum with their first interaction.
Following a penalty given against Joe Simpson – on his 100th start for London Wasps – for reacting to being held by Lawes – an edge entered the game, with some newfound physicality coming to the contact area.
The arrival of hooker Tom Lindsay brought some newfound dynamism in the loose for London Wasps and after a period of continued pressure in the Northampton 22; the Saints were penalised and Jones slotted over a penalty to make the scores all square at 19-19 after 59 minutes.
And just a minute later after some great hands by the London Wasps backline; Daly fought off a tackle from England’s Ben Foden by the touchline to score one of the tries of the season so far – Jones missed the conversion to leave the score at 24-19.
With ten minutes remaining, Myler had the opportunity to reduce the deficit for Northampton – Vunipola was penalised for an illegal tackle on Foden – but the Saints’ No.10 missed his kick at goal.
Ashley Johnson was sin-binned with six minutes remaining for pulling down yet another Northampton maul; the Saints turned down the kick at goal and went for the corner.
Wasps just about managed to keep Northampton out after a period of sustained pressure, with Launchbury eventually winning a penalty for the home side on his side’s own try-line.
But Northampton’s power up-front eventually told as after a series of drives, Day – with the help of his skipper Hartley – burrowed over the London Wasps’ line, with Myler winning the game for the Saints with the last kick of the game.